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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW

Latest Clausen Has Arm Up on Future

One in a series on the Southland's top players by position:

August 29, 2005|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

From the time he was 12, serving as a ball boy for his brother's high school football team, Jimmy Clausen has known how to dazzle onlookers with his throwing ability.

"I was sitting in the stands," recalled Steve Clarkson, a private quarterback coach. "The ball happened to fly over to where Jimmy was. He picked up the football and launched it across the field. I said, 'Who the heck is that?' "

Clarkson soon became Clausen's tutor, as he was for brothers Casey and Rick. Except Jimmy, a junior at Westlake Village Oaks Christian, has already become No. 1 in the family hierarchy.

Before Jimmy's freshman season, Clarkson said, "If there were a LeBron James in football, it would be Jimmy Clausen."

Some questioned whether Clarkson had raised expectations to an unreachable level with his hype.

"The thing is, if I wasn't accurate, I would be an idiot," he said.

As it turns out, Clausen is living up to those expectations. He passed for 58 touchdowns as a sophomore while completing 69% of his passes in leading Oaks Christian to a 14-0 record and a Southern Section Division XI championship.

Entering his junior season, he has scholarship offers from USC and South Carolina and is considered by many experts to be the top quarterback in the nation at any grade level.

Longtime NFL agent Gary Wichard, who represents Casey Clausen, watched Jimmy at a summer passing tournament and was awed by his skills.

"This cat is in another league," he said.

Dean Herrington, who coached Baltimore Raven quarterback Kyle Boller at Newhall Hart, said of Clausen, "He's the best pure passer I've seen in high school football."

Even the 23-year-old Casey, who was a four-year starter at Tennessee and is now a graduate assistant at Mississippi State, said Jimmy is far more advanced than most.

"Physically, he's a lot better than I ever was," Casey said. "He makes things look so easy. The stage he's at is where I was as a freshman or sophomore in college."

Clausen, 6 feet 3 and 200 pounds, was the talk of summer passing competitions because of his quick release and precision throws. He has changed the way he holds the ball, placing it by his ear, similar to former California quarterback Aaron Rodgers, making his release quicker.

"It's hard for other people to do because the normal way to throw is to hold it [next to] their chest," he said.

Clausen will turn 18 on Sept. 21, a reminder that he repeated the sixth grade and is older than most in his junior class. He said he had no regrets about his parents' decision.

"Looking back, repeating sixth grade was probably one of the best things that happened to me in my life, physically and mentally," he said. "I matured a lot more, became smarter in the classroom and off the field. It's really helped me."

Having the opportunity to observe his older brothers' highs and lows at Tennessee has prepared him for the future onslaught of media and fans.

Last spring, after watching USC's spring game, he went onto the field and ended up signing autographs alongside Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart.

"The one thing Casey and Rick taught me is that there are going to be people who love you and people who hate you," he said. "And you have to take it. There's going to be people who want to help you and help you in the wrong way. You have to do what's right."

Clausen's father, Jim, a former football coach, is trying to make sure his youngest son doesn't become burdened by the college recruiting process or fan attention.

"We don't want it to get too goofy," he said. "We can't let this get out of hand, the phone calls, the press clippings. We want him to be a young man. He has to enjoy what he's doing. He has to enjoy being a kid."

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